Diverse Detective Fiction Month- TBR

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It’s here: Diverse Detective Fiction Month! I’m super excited and thanks all who are joining us! (everyone else can still join us, sign up here)

So, this event (go ahead and call it a challenge if you’re feeling competitive) will be hosted by twitter button@siliconphospho and myself, twitter button@Bina_ReadThis because detective fiction is our comfort genre, but at first glance utterly normative, and when Silicon asked for recs and came up with an amazing list, things snowballed. So here we are, who’s in the mood for exploring the diverse side of detective fiction?

Here’s the guidelines:

Have fun! Also, read at least 1 diverse detective story (we encourage you to go for #ownvoices books!) and post a review on your blog or goodreads between October 1st and October 31st. Also, feel free to follow us on twitter and gush a lot about the books or audiobooks or short stories you’re reading! Use the hashtag #DiverseDetectives twitter button

So I kinda took this opportunity to stock up my mystery shelf with some much-needed diverse books. Okay fine, that’s partly the reason for the challenge! Here’s my tbr for the challenge, as you can see, I’m trying to lead by example 😉

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Summer of the Big Bachi by Naomi Hirahara

Blanche On the Lam by Barbara Neely

Cosmic Callisto Caprica & The Missing Rings of Saturn by Sophia Chester

Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Moseley

Dead Time by Eleanor Taylor Bland

The Eye of Jade by Diane Wei Liang

Cactus Blood by Lucha Corpi

Shades of Black: Crime and Mystery Stories by African-American Authors ed. by Barbara Neely

Make sure to check out our goodreads list for recommendations or vote for books there if you have recommendations for us!

Rage (Rabia) by Sergio Bizzio

Rage is another attempt of mine to read more literature that isn’t American or British and focusing more on the box of post-it notes that constitutes my personal reading list. It’s always amazing to see how much literature has been translated into German and even the tiny small-town library I visit when I stay with my parents offers enough world lit to seduce me away from my stacks of unread books at home.

Rabia was first published in Argentina in 2004 and has been translated into English as Rage. It is Bizzio’s 6th novel and has been adapted to film. The book earned Bizzio the Premio Internacional de Novela de la Diversidad and the Premio La Mar de Letras awards.

Bizzio tells the story of José María, a construction worker, who falls in love with Rosa, maid in a Buenos Aires mansion. However, when María kills the foreman after being provoked and let go, he hides for years on the upper floor of the mansion, observing Rosa and her employers without anyone noticing they’ve acquired a squatter.

While the premise seems to promise a suspenseful thriller, quickly read and forgotten, Bizzio manages to make it so much more. Once María hides in the mansion, the book is narrated from his claustrophobic, confined perspective but never is there not emotional depth to his character. I especially appreciated the pages Bizzio devoted to describing María’s behavior during the first days in the mansion, how he took care not to leave traces in the empty room he slept in or the bathroom, how he stole food from the kitchen in the middle of the night, always considering if something would be missed or not. And the terrifying moments when he thinks he might have been seen. His sneaking around the house is suitably creepy and reminded me of an episode of Whitechapel, which also focused on a squatter none of the residents know about. But while María is a voyeur and his obsession with Rosa is disturbing, Bizzio made me sympathetic to his plight and the way his self-imprisonment changes him.

Also, with a construction worker observing a well-to-do family, commentary on class issues and the state of Argentinean society is always present. Rosa is over-worked and underpaid and even worse is raped by her employers’ son, the teenaged grandson also lusts after her and of course she is always, unknowingly observed by a possessive, jealous María. From what I’ve heard, the difficult situation of maids in Argentina has received more attention in recent years, and I’d like to read another perspective, which does more to expose the sexual objectification and male gaze, as Rage simultaneously exposes and perpetuates this.

The book has been hailed as the best of contemporary Argentinean literature, which makes me want to explore more. Read this one for an atmospheric Kammerspiel, Bizzio’s amazing imagery and sparse language.

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!

Psych

Yeah sorry, this post won’t be about books for a change (though rest assured my floor and desk look like a small library at the moment). Instead I thought I’d post about my current tv show obsession, Psych:

I usually watch an episode when I eat dinner and I wanted to watch a show that wasn’t too high-maintenance like Lost etc. Just something fun and not too-addicting. I’ve seen bits of it on tv but usually missed it when it was on but I knew that it could be fun. Of course it’s kind of a crime show (maybe I should just rename my blog, seems like I never blog about anything else 😉 ), but I also love the Holmesian deduction, the tributes to other great shows and movies like Twin Peaks or Police Academy and most of all that the show doesn’t seem to take itself so seriously! (which is something that is wrong with so many people, shows and even books)

Guess it doesn’t sound very much like high praise but to me Psych is like comfort food or, perhaps better, like the wonderful coziness of a Christie mystery. It works perfectly as stress-relief from thesis-writing.

What are you comfort shows?

Update II

I am currently reading:

I haven’t been reading much this week, somehow I’m very restless and have started and put down a ton of books. As a result I’m feeling more than a little cranky, so please anyone tell me what book I can completely immerse myself in (preferably free ebooks as I’m staying with my parents at the moment and don’t have access to my usual libraries). I did start Diary of a Provincial Lady which is great, but works best if I only read a couple of pages at a time, if that makes sense.

I finished reading:

I had this one put on hold at my library, as I was pretty excited about the combo of Victorian period and female sleuth. And it wasn’t a bad book but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would. Stupid expectations!  We don’t find out much about The Agency and have to accept that it’s great and helps women be independent. Mary herself is set up as a trained spy and independent young woman but relies heavily on instinct when it comes to investigation and a huge part of the book is romance instead of mystery. Which I don’t like, and I enjoy this typical “I’m an independent woman but I just can’t help but fall for the ‘charms’ of the idiot who keeps trying to tell me what to do and knows everything better” even less. And the mystery was a dud. But to end on a positive note, I did like the premise and the stinking Thames.

I recently acquired:

Walked past the uni bookstore and found these two gems for a shockingly low price in a sales box, I mean it’s Wodehouse! I had to save them of course, but then met a friend who had never heard of Wodehouse (gasp!) and immediately let her borrow them. Though it was apparently the cover art that convinced her, not my passionate speech about all things Wodehouse. Go figure 😉

I’m still trying to get back to blogging regularly but as you can see it’s still pretty sporadic posting on my part. On the upside, my first paper went well and I decided to move myself and my workload for the next paper to my parents as I was starting to forget what the ‘old faces’ looked liked as Bertie would say, and added benefit, they feed me! Also, I started doing couch to 5k, all this sitting at a desk for 8 hours straight was killing me. Week one was fun and easy enough and I love the motivational podcasts from NHS 😀

How are you all doing & what are you reading?

Review: The Red House Mystery

Like most people, I know A. A. Milne as the author of the Pooh books (though admittedly I haven’t read any of them) but to my delight I learned that Milne, a fan of the classic detective story, had written one himself. The Red House Mystery is sadly the only mystery he wrote, but it is such a delight! If you are in the mood for  a classic mystery which also gently mocks that genre or just fancy a cosy, this should be your next read.

Anthony Gillingham, our amateur sleuth (for let’s face it, the best sleuths are amateurs) stumbles into the middle of a country house murder and a locked-room murder no less. Arriving at the red house to visit his friend Bill Beverley, Tony finds that the host Mark Ablett has disappeared and his no-good brother Robert from Australia has been shot in the study, it’s a rum business as Bill would say. So Tony chooses a new profession and Bill agrees to play Watson to his Sherlock Holmes.

Bill by the way is just the sidekick anyone could wish for and with his “I say” and “what-ho” reminded me a lot of Bertie Wooster. Like Wodehouse’s world, the one Milne conjures here is one of eternal English summer, teas and tennis. It’s the idealistic pre-WWI England that never really existed but is always mourned, especially in the classic British mysteries. I recommend joining the characters with a cup of tea and a scone in this ideal world (where some people just happen to be murdered 😉 ). Still, it’s all very cosy and fun and the characters as well as the narrator keep commenting on genre conventions and references abound.  The solution isn’t too much of a surprise, but otherwise there’s really not much Milne doesn’t provide. There’s a marvelous library, a secret passage, a Holmes and Watson pair of sleuths, a locked room murder and the police are baffled.

I can’t believe though that Milne would end the book with his sleuth saying that he was just getting into the swing of it and then not follow it up with a sequel! But there you go, you have been warned to make the most of this little gem!

As this mystery is a classic and was published in 1922, this counts for the Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge.

Other thoughts:

Things Mean A Lot

Novel Insights

Geranium Cat’s Bookshelf

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!

120 years of Agatha Christie

It is September 15 in my part of the world, at least for two more hours, and this year that means Agatha Christie would have turned 120 today!  I thought this was the best excuse to bore you with endless details about my love for her mysteries that I would get anytime soon! 😉 So how have I been celebrating? I’ve been exceptionally lazy today and watched The Moving Finger and Murder at the Vicarage, all to honour the queen of crime of course. For me, Agatha Christie remains the one and only Queen of Crime. I do not mean to diminish the works of Sayers, Allingham and Marsh, in fact, I’m trying to discover their works now. But when I was ten or eleven, I “discovered” Christie’s mysteries on my mother’s bookshelf. Until then my reading had mainly consisted of Enid Blyton and Astrid Lindgren books, and when I ran out, I thought why not look at what my mother has on her shelves. Now, some German editions had a rather exciting cover:

Cheap and melodramatic, isn’t it? Though I’m still someone who judges books by their covers, my tastes run more to vintage nowadays. But when I was ten or eleven, these promised grown-up excitement, and there were so many of them! The content wasn’t quite as dramatic and brutal as I imagined, but I was nonetheless fascinated and for many years there was always the next Christie on the shelf or in the bookstore. I remember usually buying two new mysteries when I went to the bookstore, and my mother took one and hid it, so that I wouldn’t finish both of them the same day (and get incredibly cranky). I never thought that one day I might run out of them (gasp!), but my mother clearly knew better. Christie’s mysteries and whodunits in general are obviously mainly plot-driven and once I started one book, it was better not to disturb me until I had finished. I considered everything from dinner to school as disturbing, and once even tried to convince my friends that sitting in a room each quietly reading her own book would be fun (yeah that didn’t work). Then there was the time I found out that the staff in chain bookstores is not necessarily competent. I asked for a Christie crime, and was met with a blank stare, and after some descriptions was led to the crime section where I found about five books that I had already read. Where was the rest? Oh well, she didn’t think Christie was much read anymore. I kind of told her off, didn’t she realize that this was the queen of crime!? The author who was only outsold by the bible and Shakespeare!?

I think most people when asked to name a literary sleuth name Sherlock Holmes first, and probably Poirot and Miss Marple next. Or who is the first sleuth who comes to your mind? Honestly, there is no wrong answer! 🙂 I’ve always loved both Poirot’s and Miss Marple’s cases, they are simply great in different ways. But there are much more books that feature Poirot, so I’m happy I don’t favour Miss Marple. I love pretending to watch birds, but really study the villagers’ behaviour with Miss Marple, who looks so timid and sweet but expects the worst from people. But I also love following Poirot being arrogant and pretending to be a preening foreign idiot and then solving a case without even leaving his armchair, all thanks to his little grey cells. Which is really why I could never get into Holmes’ cases, all this stumbling about, picking up clues from the ground and sniffing at cigarette stumps. Which one is your favourite sleuth, and why?

As most of you know, I don’t much enjoy hardboiled crime fiction but love cosy mysteries, especially the ones from the Golden Age. In Christie’s mysteries, people murder for reasons that are well, understandable is perhaps not the best word, what I’m trying to say is that they have motives like hate or money. It’s not because they want your skin for a coat, or something completely psychotic. And although the murder is always caught and order is restored, the murder is still a person with feelings, someone whose actions can be related to, even if they cannot be pardoned. I think I never really figured out whodunit, this queen broke all the rules, and although she left clues, I couldn’t work it out. What I love about these mysteries is that once you know you can still reread them, and I’ve done that countless times (I don’t even count them in my reading list anymore). They don’t become less enjoyable, but perhaps even more cosy. Whenever it’s cold and rainy outside or I feel homesick or I’m ill, I make some tea, get some biscuits and settle down with a Christie mystery. I always feel better after spending some time in her world. I hope you’ll all try her once, to see if it works for you too!

I think I really do love each and every one of her mysteries, but of course there are some that I reread more often than others. One of my favorite Poirot books is Cards on the Table, because it has such a wonderful premise: Four murderers who haven’t been caught and four sleuth are invited to a dinner party at Mr. Shaitana’s. The host watches the criminals play bridge in one room, while the others play in another room. As the party draws close, Mr. Shaitana is found dead, murdered, and one of the four players in the room must have done it. Only four suspects, but it’ll keep you guessing! This is also the first mystery that features Mrs. Oliver, one of my favorite secondary characters. She is basically Christie’s parody of herself, and if you want to know what she thought of being a crime writer, and of her detective Poirot, read a book that has Mrs. Oliver, it’s informative and great fun.

With Miss Marple, Christie has written the best village mysteries, and created one of the best-loved sleuths. I think the first Miss Marple mystery I read was Murder at the Vicarage, which has remained a favorite. The mystery is difficult, and you’ll never look at village life quite the same way. I also love the adaptation with Geraldine McEwan, yup, the one I watched again today! Give Miss Marple a try, you can enter the period of the 30s till 50s (I think) and crime has never been cosier.

Christie also wrote mysteries with other amateur sleuths, and the best of these is perhaps Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?. Isn’t the title intriguing already? The amateur sleuths are a vicar’s son and his upper-class childhood friend Frankie, who is one of my favorite heroines. It’s really a mystery with a strong dose of adventure, and both ingenious as well as fun. I doubt you’ll resolve this mystery! If you enjoy adventure and spy stories, make sure to try Christie’s Tuppence and Tommy books, start off with The Secret Adversary. There are so many mysteries, Christie wrote over sixty, there is probably one for everyone!

I convinced myself, what about you? If you haven’t read any Christie yet, are you thinking of giving her a try? And if you’re a fan like me (yay!), what is your Christie story?

For all things Christie, click here.

Review: Case Histories

Now that I finally have time for fun books again I thought I’d sort out the books I have here at my parents and put the ones I didn’t like up on bookmooch. It’s really weird that loving to read means reading anything to the extended family, but I hope someone will have more fun with these books than I had. Anyway, while I was sorting and dusting, I noticed Case Histories by Kate Atkinson on my shelf. I had no idea I owned this! I remember trying something by Atkinson at some point but I think I didn’t enjoy it that much. But then looking at my poor neglected copy,  I remembered Simon of Savidge Reads mentioning how much he loves Atkinson’s series, and so I decided to give it a try. I’m glad I did!

Case Histories is the first book in a series around private detective (and former police officer) Jackson Brodie, and is set in Cambridge. But the novel starts with three case histories: Three year old Olivia disappears from the tent in her garden one night, 18 year old Lauren is attacked by an unknown man in a yellow golfing sweater, and young mother Michelle looses control and kills her husband. These cases all take place at different times and seem to be unconnected. The only link between them is that Brodie is asked to investigate them by Olivia’s sisters, Lauren’s father, and Michelle’s sister wanting to find her niece. Brodie is not a very happy man, he is divorced from his wife and is haunted by a personal tragedy, which is a fourth case history. His private eye business, too, is going slow, most of his cases are provided by old eccentric Binky Rain, who asks Jackson to find some of her many cats. When these three cases are dropped in his lap, he is not very optimistic about solving them, however, he is a nice guy and takes a real interest in those family members left behind. There are the Land sisters, Amelia and Julia, who find Blue Mouse, Olivia’s toy, the one she disappeard with. There’s Lauren’s fathers Theo, to whom she was and still is the world, and Michelle’s sister who wants to find her niece.

Of the three opening chapters, the case histories, I was most invested in Olivia Land’s. Atkinson introduces the reader to a dysfunctional family, the distant father, the exhausted mother, neither of whom appears to be very interested in the children. The sisters in turn are all slightly weird but all very much their own person, and it is interesting to find out what has become of them thirty years later. Atkinson suceeds in creating characters that are likable but odd, tragic but unintentionally funny. There are not too few characters but all of them come to life. Perhaps this is part of the reason why critics refer to Case Histories as literary crime. This book is one that can be enjoyed by crime- and non-crime readers alike. Although it has a detective and cases of missing persons, the focus is as much on the tragedy of losing someone close and dealing with how to move on from that, as it is on the mystery of the cases. You want to find out what happened, but  that is not the central question of this book.

Case Histories is probably one of those books that has people gushing about how it transcends the genre and combines the best of genres etc. This is somewhat insulting to the ‘conventional’ genres, but I suppose I get their meaning. Even if literary crime sounds somewhat pretentious, I think I like it. I hope that means my reading horizons are expanding 🙂

Other thoughts:

Teresa at Shelf Love

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!

Review: The Life and Crimes of Agatha Christie

The Life and Crimes of Agatha Christie is an excellent companion for every Christie fan. Of course this book might be interesting to others as well, but I don´t think those who aren´t major fans will have the sustained interest and reading stamina to make it through about 400 pages of details about every published work by Agatha Christie. Not that I want to scare you off! 🙂

Although this is nonfiction, it´s not difficult to read at all, the writing style is quite conversational. But I wouldn´t recommend reading this book in one sitting. Osborne structures his work according to Christie´s works, and goes through them from earliest till latest book. I´d recommend keeping it on your nightstand and picking it up after reading one of Christie´s works, to find out where Christie wrote it, how typical (or not) it was of her style, etc. Reading this book from cover to cover takes some of the pleasure out of it, as some of the information repeats itself of course (I had to read it quickly because my copy was only from the library).

It was interesting to find out how Christie´s life and her works intersect which is especially noticeable in those of her works which are set in the middle east. I haven´t read any biographies about Christie, I have her autobiography on the shelf, so much of the information about her personal life was new to me. I also liked that Osborne made use of Max Mallowan´s (Christie´s second husband) memoirs to round this up.

Osborne mentions Christie´s knowledge of poisons, which she very often made use of in her mysteries. This knowledge was a result of her training and work as a nurse in WWI. It was also interesting to read that Belgian refugees inspired her to invent her famous detective Poirot. And his nationality is something that she apparently came to regret as she didn´t have much knowledge of Belgium, and her French (and as a result Poirot´s) wasn´t always up to the task. If you haven´t read any of Christie´s mysteries which feature Ariadne Oliver, do so now. Christie brilliantly satirizes herself in Mrs Oliver, and through Mrs Oliver (who is a crime writer and has invented a Finnish detective who´s obsessed with vegetables) she vents her troubles with her famous detective. Did I mention that Mrs Oliver is my favorite secondary character? 🙂

Osborne also adresses Christie´s carelessness with regard to timeline, it´s really better not to wonder about Poirot´s age, especially in the later mysteries. And to me Poirot was always the same in every book, I couldn´t really imagine him aging very much, even though he lived through two world wars. I think Christie had her attention on her plot and intricate puzzles, which is what really counts.

There is mention of Christie´s apparently not very high-brow writing style, but Osborne states that “her prose is never less than adequate to convey mood and meaning”. Which seems to me to be the point, Christie focused on the puzzle which is always quite brilliant, but she doesn´t go out of her way to do the same for her writing style or characterization. These were always adequate but never so noticeable that they distracted from the central mystery. I suppose this might put some readers off, especially if you don´t draw a line between crime fiction and novels. This is not supposed to say that crime fiction cannot be beautifully written or be very literary (and lots of writers are trying to prove it), it´s just that often this is not the most important thing about it. I´m very particular about the mysteries I read, I don´t want them to try to be a literary novel with a side of murder mystery, but simply a puzzle. And this is what Agatha Christie delivers. She wrote some novels under the pseudonym of Mary Westmacott, and her style and characterization are given more attention there. Although I always admired that even in her mysteries, one sentence was enough to make a character come to life.

Something I loved about this companion is that Osborne plays fair, and never reveals the endings and solutions of the mysteries. If you´ve seen The Mousetrap you´ll know from experience that this is something that´s basically sacred to Christie fans. Although Osborne tries his best to be objective, it´s still obvious that he is a big Agatha Christie fan, and that is something that makes reading his work more enjoyable. The greatest fault a writer can have , in my opion, is a lack of enthusiasm.

What I never noticed (perhaps it was edited out of the German editions) is that apparently Christie made several anti-semitic comments in her mysteries. It seems that this was quite common in her time and class, and she was horrified when she met someone who was in favor of the politics of the third reich, but it´s still upsetting to read. I guess there´s always a drawback, early feminists were in favor of the class system, there´s racism in the classics, and apparently anti-semitism in Christie mysteries.

But I didn´t want to end my review like that, so I´m going to leave you with a quote about one of my favorite Christie mysteries, Cards on the Table. In another book, Hastings asks Poirot to describe his favorite crime (which he then encounters in Cards on the Table):

Then as his imagination warms to the task, he proceeds to describe the kind of crime he would most like to investigate. Four people in a room are playing bridge, while a fifth reads in a chair by the fire. At the end of the evening, it is discovered that the man by the fire has been killed. No one has been in or out of the room, and the murderer must have been one of the four players while he or she was dummy.

Doesn´t that sound fantastic? (I should perhaps mention that I´m a structure-geek, and this mystery is nothing if not well-structured 🙂 )

Review: Talking about Detective Fiction

It´s crime time again on this blog! Apologies to all of you who are not fans of the genre, I do occasionally read and review other books 😉 Since this book is called Talking about Detective Fiction, I´ll just add my (very subjective) two cents.

Famous crime writer P.D. James has written a small volume on detective fiction. In eight essays she looks at the begginnings of detective fiction,  the four queens of crime, the differences between British and American detective fiction, the Golden Age, and the way the genre has evolved since then.

Beginning at the beginning, James credits Wilkie Collins´ The Moonstone as the first real example of detective fiction, tells us that Austen´s Emma is in fact a detective story, and also mentions Bleak House and E. A. Poe´s C. Auguste Dupin stories. She grants the obligatory chapter to Sherlock Homes, and examines the Watson figure, which has been emulated by Agatha Christie with Poirot´s ami Hastings. I think I haven´t read more than two Sherlock Holmes stories, and it´s probably more usual to start off with this great detective and then go on to read the queen of crime, but for me it was the other way around. I had already marvelled at Poirot´s abilities to solve a murder without leaving his appartment and Holmes´ crawling around in search of footprints was rather less impressive after that.

James also looks at G.K. Chesterton and his Father Brown, another influential detective I haven´t read yet. There are these rather sacrilegious German film adaptations, starring Heinz Rühmann. The films present Pater Brown as a mischievous detective who only wants to help his flock but is always, not so reluctantly, drawn into situations that require his detective skills. The bishop is rather less than impressed with his infamous pater, and transfers him to more and more remote places, to the eternal regret of the long-suffering housekeeper. But crime always finds Pater Brown. The films were made during a time when English books were made into films here in Germany and everything was kept English (the setting, the names, etc) except for the language, with, to me, hilarious results. It´s just so fun to hear the actors brutalize English names while pretending to be English. But I´ve grown up with these films, and can remember countless cosy Sunday afternoons spent watching them with my mum. Which is a complicated way to explain that I never dared read the Father Brown books because of how attached I am to the ridiculous films.

James for the most part talks about British detective fiction, but in one essay she goes into the different directions detective fiction took in the UK and the United States. While cosy crime reigned surpreme in the UK, in the U.S. the genre was rather more violent and evolved into hardboiled detective fiction of the likes of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. I´ve always been more partial to the British variety, but can highly recommend The Big Sleep, which does not only have a great mystery but is also beautifully written.

The to me most interesting parts of this book were the essays on Golden Age detective fiction and the four queens of crime. James explains how it is possible for crime fiction to be cosy while also dealing with murder. This paradox is possible because of the pattern of creating order out of chaos which is at the base of the classic mysteries, and as such it comes as no surprise that the years between the wars formed the Golden Age. In these classical mysteries, the murderer is removed from society (hanged in those times, of course), order is restored, and social healing can begin. Add to that that these murders are rarely very brutal or explained in detail, and the classic formula which promises fair-play of the author and a puzzle to the reader, and there you have the explanation why detective fiction is an escapist genre, and people enjoy these books with a hot cup of the on the couch.

The only thing that spoilt my fun a bit was that whenever P.D. James mentioned Christie, backhanded compliments were involved. Agatha Christie apparently wasn´t innovative enough and filled her works with pasteboard characters. The critique of Christie´s characterization is something I´ve only recently become aware of. True, when I read her mysteries I was only a teenager, but I never once felt that her characters were pasteboard. Instead, I remember being awed that it took her only one sentence to make a character come alive. Her characterization never interefered with her plotting, is that what people are criticizing? Perhaps then I can begin to understand what people are talking about, although this is exactly why she was such a great mystery writer. I suppose it comes down to what you want more in a detective book, mystery or characterization. I don´t want more emphasis on the characters, because in that case I´ll just read a novel, not a mystery. The crime writer to turn to for more characterization and social criticism seems to be Sayers. I´ve only read two or three by her and from what I understand they weren´t her best, so I´ll make sure to read others before giving up on her. Because I loved her writing style and would have been perfectly satisfied if the books had been novels, but as mysteries, they didn´t do much for me. So, what´s her best? Murder Must Advertise? Then there are the other two Golden Age ladies who seem to be lesser known, Margery Allingham and Ngaio Marsh. I tried reading Sweet Danger by Allingham but that seems to have been more of an adventure story than a mystery, so I want to try a later work of her. Any suggestions? Sadly there are hardly any Ngaio Marsh works in my library.

I still think Talking about Detective Fiction is a wonderful work, it gives a good overview of the genre, and I can recommend it to fans of the genre as well as to those who are new to it. And there are wonderful cartoons in it! 🙂 I´ve also resolved to finally read a mystery by P.D. James herself, and try some of the detective stories and nonfiction works she mentions here.

This book also counts towards the 2010 Bibliophilic Books Challenge.

Review: The War Against Miss Winter

The War Against Miss Winter

Kathryn Miller Haines

This detective novel was recommended to me by a friend who enjoys mostly crime novels so I wasn´t sure if it was something I would like. While I adore Agatha Christie, I´ve always thought of hard-boilt detective stories as a guy thing. The detective is usually an anti-social man in trench coat and the female characters tend to be of the seductive murderess or damsel-in-distress variety.

The War Against Miss Winter, however, stars a female amateur detective: Miss Rosie Winter, not so successful actress, tough and witty.

Summary:
Set in New York City, Haines's assured debut brings the WWII era to
vivid life, from a topical jump-rope song (Whistle while you work.
Hitler is a jerk…) to Automats and jive joints. On New Year's Eve
1942, actress Rosie Winter, whose day job is with a Manhattan detective
agency, finds the body of her boss, Sam McCain, hanging in his office
closet, his hands and neck tied with phone cord. The investigating cop
calls Sam's death a well-deserved suicide, but there's a missing play
that a reclusive playwright and a rich widow want found. Rosie, a
fast-thinking Hepburn type, takes on the case, aided by her best pal,
Jayne (a petite blonde with… the voice of a two-year-old dubbed
America's squeakheart). This is a fun romp, though the author, herself
a playwright and actor, provides some dark commentary on avant-garde
theater and war as well as an unexpected and wicked twist in the
novel's final act.
(Amazon.com)

Rosie is a likable character, quick on the uptake with a sharp tongue. Her friend Jayne, the squeakheart, is a fabulous sidekick. I found it interesting to read about WWII from the perspective of the other side (US citizens back home) and I loved the theatre background. It´s the hunt for the missing play that binds the characters and story lines together and the twist – I love twists!- is very clever and took me completely by suprise.

And if you liked it, there are two sequels!

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